Time 100: The Most Important People of the Century

Time 100: The Most Important People of the Century is a compilation of the 20th century's 100 most influential people, published in Time magazine in 1999.

The idea for such a list started on February 1, 1998, with a debate at a symposium in Hanoi, Vietnam. The panel participants were former CBS Evening News anchor Dan Rather, historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, former New York governor Mario Cuomo, then–Stanford Provost Condoleezza Rice, publisher Irving Kristol, and Time managing editor Walter Isaacson.

In a separate issue on December 31, 1999, Time recognized Einstein as the Person of the Century.

List categories

Time's article cites twenty persons in each of five broad categories: Leaders and Revolutionaries, Scientists and Thinkers, Builders and Titans, Artists and Entertainers, and Heroes and Icons.

Person of the Century

Albert Einstein

Of the 100 chosen, Albert Einstein was chosen as the Person of the Century, on the grounds that he was the preeminent scientist in a century dominated by science. The editors of Time believed the 20th century "will be remembered foremost for its science and technology", and Einstein "serves as a symbol of all the scientists—such as Fermi, Heisenberg, Bohr, Richard Feynman, ...who built upon his work".[1]

The cover of the magazine featured the famous image of Einstein taken in 1947 by American portrait photographer Philippe Halsman.



Mussolini and Hitler, most influential dictators of the 20th century

It was debated whether Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini, responsible for World War II, The Holocaust, and the Second Italo-Ethiopian War, should have been made Persons of the Century for their influence in politics.[2]

The argument was based on Time's explicit criterion that the persons chosen should have the greatest impact on this century, for better or worse. In the same 31 December 1999 issue of Time, essayist Nancy Gibbs addressed the topic with the article The Necessary Evil? In the article, she argues that Hitler and Mussolini "were simply the latest in a long line of murderous figures, stretching back to before Genghis Khan. The only difference was technology: Both Hitler and Mussolini went about their cynical carnage with all the efficiency that modern industry had perfected" and present several rhetorical questions such as "Evil may be a powerful force, a seductive idea, but is it more powerful than genius, creativity, courage or generosity?"[3]

Only people to shape both the 20th and early 21st centuries

Of Time magazine's 100 most influential people of the 20th century, only the following five had the distinction of being listed again in the 21st century when Time began publishing an annual list of the 100 people who continue to change the world:

Once the Time 100 became an annual list, Oprah Winfrey emerged as the most frequently listed person.

Muhammad Ali has been recognized to be the most important sportsman in history. Bill Gates was considered influential in the 20th century for his role in the computer revolution, and then later recognized in the 21st century for his philanthropic influence. Pope John Paul II was recognized in part for his role in ending communism in Eastern Europe, then leading the Roman Catholic Church into the modern age in the 21st century. Luciano Pavarotti was declared as one of the most successful tenors of all time. Nelson Mandela was recognized for his role in ending South African apartheid in the 20th century, and as a symbol of forgiveness in the 21st.

Winfrey was considered influential in the 20th for creating a more intimate confessional form of media communication, unleashing confession culture, and popularizing and revolutionizing[4][5][6] the tabloid talk show genre pioneered by Phil Donahue, which a Yale study claimed broke 20th century taboos and allowed gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender people to enter the mainstream.[7] In the 21st century, she was considered influential as an inspirational role model, for the impact of her book club in making literature accessible to the masses, and for helping to elect the first African-American president of the United States.[8] Winfrey's influence on American culture is so significant and far-reaching that her first name is the subject of the neologism "oprahization", referring to an increased sensitivity towards self-disclosure from victims of abuse or tragedy. The word does not appear in physical dictionaries, although it has been cited in several professional articles and writings.


The list of the top 20 Artists and Entertainers, in particular, was criticized for not including Elvis Presley, a decision Handy initially defended in the following way:

One of the most important, innovative things about rock is the whole notion of songwriters singing their own works, of the immediacy of expression. Since Elvis didn't write his own material, unlike The Beatles or Bob Dylan or Luciano Pavarotti or Enrico Caruso or Robert Johnson, who's also someone who could have been included, maybe that cut against him… I think the Beatles pushed the envelope a lot further. Elvis' most original recordings were his first. The Beatles started out as imitators, then continued to grow throughout their years together.[9]

Handy was also asked to defend Time's decision to include the fictional character Bart Simpson from The Simpsons television series among the 100 most influential people of the 20th century, and he did so as follows:

I don't see how you can look at this century and not include cartoons. They're one of our great contributions, along with jazz and film. (I know, I know. The movies were a 19th-century invention. But we 20th century folks really put them to good use.)… To some extent, too, we wanted people who also represented important 20th century trends or developments. That would help account for the Barts and Oprahs[9]... What Bart, or really the Simpsons, have done is merge social satire with popular animation in a way that hasn't really been done before.[9]

The list also received criticism for its inclusion of Lucky Luciano, who was chosen in part because "he modernized the Mafia, shaping it into a smoothly run national crime syndicate focused on the bottom line". New York mayor Rudy Giuliani accused Time of "romanticizing" gangsters, and he stated: "The idea that he civilized the Mafia is absurd. He murdered in order to get the position that he had, and then he authorized hundreds and hundreds of murders." The selection was called an "outrage" by Philip Cannistraro, a Queens College professor of Italian-American studies, and Thomas Vitale, the New York State vice president of Fieri, an Italian-American charitable organization, criticized Time for "perpetuating myths" about Italian-Americans. However, Time business editor Bill Saporito defended the selection by calling Luciano as "kind of an evil genius" who had a deep impact on the underground economy. "We're not out there to heap glory on these people", he explained. "We're out to say these are people who influenced our lives." Saporito further noted that "every piece of merchandise that came out of the Garment District had a little extra cost in it because of organized crime."[10]

See also


  1. "Einstein as Person of the Century (or Not?)". AIP History Newsletter. XXXVII (1). Spring 2000. Retrieved 17 August 2013.
  2. Cosgrove, Ben (17 February 1999). "Hitler and Mussolini: Color Photos of Chummy Warmongers". Time. Retrieved 18 May 2014.
  3. Gibbs, Nancy (31 December 1999). "The Necessary Evil?". Time. Retrieved 16 August 2011.
  4. "Coming After Oprah" (Press release). Dr. Leonard Mustazza. Retrieved 12 March 2007.
  5. Tannen, Deborah (8 June 1998). "Oprah Winfrey". The TIME 100. Retrieved 12 March 2007.
  6. "Oprahization". Word Spy. Retrieved 12 March 2007.
  7. "An interview and excerpt from Freaks Talk Back". University of Chicago Press. Retrieved 12 March 2007.
  8. Levitt, Steven D. (6 August 2008). "So Much for One Person, One Vote". The New York Times. Retrieved 25 May 2010.
  9. 1 2 3 TIME 100: Artist & Entertainers – Bruce Handy Yahoo Chat 4 June 1998
  10. "It's No Time To Laud Luciano, Says Rudy". Daily News. New York. 1 December 1998.

External links

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